Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

This happened back in the mid 1980s. I was a young assistant produce manager, but I remember it well.

The chain I worked for had just been acquired by a larger chain. No surprise there. One day while stocking bags of Sunkist oranges, a visiting representative of the parent chain intervened. He took off his expensive black sport coat, rolled up his sleeves and turned the bags over so that the brand faced down.

“We’re not selling labels,” he said firmly. “We’re selling produce.”

From then on, the directive was to do the same with other produce items. In some instances this was for the better, as an obscure or “busy” label may have been less appealing. Or in other items, the back side of the bag was clear and displayed the fruit well.

It’s difficult to measure if this philosophy was beneficial in regard to overall sales or customer acceptance. But in my humble opinion, the labels-down policy that some chains enforce even today is a mistake.

Consider for a moment the years and generations that grower-shippers developed and improved their product — and the associated branding. Some of those brands such as the oranges mentioned are household names, such as Driscoll’s, Well-Pict, Chiquita, Giumarra, Dole and Del Monte, to name just a few. Each represents the highest standard of fresh produce and has earned the coveted level of consumer confidence.

And you want to hide the label?

Turning over bags to highlight a commodity instead of allowing the brand help drive sales in produce merchandising is akin to walking down a grocery aisle and reverse-facing other brands. Can you imagine spinning labels around such as French’s, Carnation, Keebler, Vlasic, Cheerios, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, angus beef or Kraft Miracle Whip, to name just a few?

I can hear that distant voice echo: “We’re not selling labels, we’re selling consumable commodities.”

Of course there are exceptions in the produce aisle. Many chains have their house brand imprinted on prepackaged produce, even though the grocer isn’t even a grower. (Interesting that these proprietary labels aren’t stocked backwards.)

Imagine further using the same argument — a grocer replacing their own legacy, outdoor banner with something generic that says: Food.

Wouldn’t happen.

I don’t have anything but experience to affirm that high-level brands help sell produce. Whenever we built an expanded display with grower-shipper cartons as a base for a spillover and the name added to the signs and other point-of-sale material from the company, the result was always increased sales.

A produce department that merchandises and executes well creates a festive atmosphere that spurs shoppers’ interest and maximizes sales. That is especially true when featuring brands that customers know and trust.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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